Nutrition: Are your kids staying hydrated?

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It may be summertime when the livin’ is easy, but it’s a time when kids play hard. Taking heed of their liquid assets is key all year round, but is especially important when outdoor temperatures soar. Mild dehydration can go hand in hand with crankiness and tiredness. In more severe cases, it can lead to an inability to produce sweat which is necessary for cooling down. The result can be heat stroke.

While you might think that a dehydrated child would be thirsty, it’s often not the case. In some instances, thirst may lag behind the need for water, but in others, youngsters can simply be having too much fun to notice. We need to keep tabs on the amount of fluid they consume.

The best choice for hydrating depends on a few factors. If your youngsters are perspiring excessively, water alone won’t fit the bill. Electrolytes such as potassium and sodium, along with water, are lost in sweat and need to be replaced. Sports drinks may be the first option that comes to mind, but note that while they’re great for endurance sports that last at least a couple of hours, for most kids, other beverages are better.

Milk or yogurt are ideal replacements for both fluids and electrolytes as they contain plenty of each. Throw some high water content fruit in for a tasty smoothie and you’ve got even more fluid and potassium.

Juices supply potassium and fluids, but fresh fruit provides the same nutrients plus fibre. With weight concerns being so common today, fruit is a much healthier option than calorie-laden juices. If your kids love juice, try diluting it with water.

Water is a super option for hydration but it doesn’t always have to come in the form of a drink. Many foods contain high amounts of water. For example:

  • cantaloupe and strawberries are 90 percent water.
  • cucumbers are 95 percent water.

A one cup serving of any of these fruits or vegetables is just slightly shy of drinking one cup of water.

The quantity of water your youngster needs depends on what they’re eating. If their diet meets their quota of fruits, vegetables, milk and yogurt, they don’t need as much water. Play it safe. Before they head outdoors, give them a beverage. And getting them to be water lovers at a young age will offer them health perks throughout their lives.

Signs your child is dehydrated:

  • mood changes
  • light-headedness
  • dark coloured urine
  • constipation
  • dry mouth

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian in private practice and author of The Enlightened Eater’s Whole Foods Guide (Viking Canada). Like Rosie on Facebook at for tips on healthy eats.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, July 2012

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